9780747547570 / 0747547572

Alphabet: The Story of One of Civilization's Greatest Inventions


Publisher:Bloomsbury Pub Ltd



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About the book:

The subtitle of this tome, Some Notes on Letters, understates the case considerably: it's hard to imagine a more comprehensive historical and aesthetic survey of the 26-letter Roman alphabet, at least in one compact volume.

Originally intended as "a winter's brief exercise" by American editor and book designer Richard A Firmage, the book, in the author's words, "far overstepped its original bounds". Years of research finally yielded a work that traces the development of the alphabet from the time the Phoenicians began representing sounds with symbols to the contemporary explosion in computerised typography. Along the way, Firmage brings in some intriguing trivia. For example, the stylus used by ancient Greek scribes often doubled as a weapon and, in 1939, one E V Wright published a 50,000-word novel which didn't once use the letter "e".

In 26 chapters (one for each letter of the alphabet), Firmage explains not only the linguistic origins of each letter but also the evolution of its representation in script and in type. The author's prose is stately and learned, but never over-scholarly or tedious, and the text is accompanied by abundant black-and-white illustrations of historical typefaces and alphabetical ephemera.

Anyone interested in the Western alphabet and how it got that way will enjoy The Alphabet Abecedarium. The book is an excellent gift choice for the aspiring designer or budding bibliophile, but you'd best buy two copies--if you care enough about the alphabet to be reading this review, you'll probably want one for yourself. --C A Wills

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